Silicon Valley is still the World’s Innovation Centre, acting as a global nucleus of multi-billion-dollar tech brands like Apple, Google, Netflix, Airbnb, and Oracle. While these are all successful businesses through their products and services, they have all – for the most part – also had great success in maintaining their reputations.
When considering this, I had a bit of a light bulb moment – quite literally. I recently read that the longest lasting light bulb in the world is 121-years-old, is also in California and has burned for more than one million hours, and it got me thinking about how this bulb has lasted this long and what it can teach us about maintaining company reputations.
The secret to this ever-shining bulb is constant maintenance, quality materials, careful handling, and infrequently being turned off and on – and these principles all apply in a metaphorical way to reputation management too. Don’t believe me? Here’s my four components to keeping your reputation – and brand – alive and burning.
1. Drive it forwards
Like a 121-year-old light– a good brand needs constant maintenance. You might have the market share or the highest share of voice now, but if you don’t work hard to stay at the top, competitors and new companies will catch up and overtake. People are drawn to brands that continue to move with the market and trends around them, and those that adapt and put themselves out there to try new things.
Use your communications to stay at the forefront – you can’t be complacent and assume you’ll maintain popularity without any hard work. You could model this on a company like Netflix, which had its humble beginnings in the late 90s as a mail-order video-rental service and is now one of the biggest film and TV streaming services around. While the business itself is successful, people also know it as a brand that constantly brings out new content, keeps up with trends, and moves with the world around it. However, what’s also important about Netflix is that it plays to its strengths – and it’s critical your organisation knows its strengths too.
2. Build on strengths, but handle with care
As your organisation grows, you’ll find that you become stronger in some areas that others. This can be handy for winning new business, but it can also cause problems if there’s misalignment between what people know you for and what you want to be known for.
If your company is still growing, using communications and careful messaging to promote the different areas of the business can help stop you being pigeon-holed into one speciality. However, if your company has a heritage in a particular service – don’t dump it entirely. You don’t have to be defined by it, but if it’s what made the business successful in the first place, use it to your advantage. When innovating, consider how your communications can help give legacy products or services a makeover or new light and take them to the next level – just be careful of getting distracted by the ‘shiny new thing’ when planning your strategy.
3. Avoid ‘shiny new thing’ temptation
‘Shiny new thing’ syndrome is the idea of moving on from one brand new idea to another – and it’s pretty common. For instance, you might switch off an approach to your social media strategy that’s worked well so far and turn on a brand-new approach that’s untested but seems promising and new because everyone else is doing it – it’s the ‘shiny new thing’.
But what’s the result? You get a basic understanding of different approaches and strategies to your communications, but you won’t have an in-depth understanding of any – which you would have if you’d stuck out the original approach and refined it. You need to give your planned approach a chance – see it out, take time to analyse and improve on the results. An element of experimentation is ok, but it’s best to keep refining approaches so you can learn rather than guess.
4. Your power source
While all these areas are important to consider in innovation, your organisation also can’t forget about the people who are making the innovation happen – your quality materials, your energy and your customers. They can have a bigger influence your company reputation than you may expect. Consider a company like Uber, which has had its innovative and ‘cool’ reputation tarnished in the past couple of years by sexual harassment cases. It’s still a dominant company, but a huge number of consumers chose to boycott the brand in the wake of those cases.
You need to work with your HR team to nurture the people – your fuel and energy power – who are driving your business forward, listen to their concerns, and act on them. It’s not just about keeping a consistent and exciting external brand in place, but also about using your communications to create and maintain the best possible internal brand, because that’s what is reflected externally.
While not every company can be as big as the Silicon Valley giants, maintaining your company’s reputation, demonstrating how your company is innovating, and looking after your team will enhance your longevity and give your organisation the best chance of survival – both in a business and reputation sense.
Shine bright, don’t dim the light.
Innovation. The introduction of something new and a word we hear about all the time in the creative industry. It can be crucial to the initial and continuing success of a business, but also crippling if you don’t commit to it and give consumers exactly what they want.
Customer service is often considered to be the key to a brand’s reputation, but part of keeping the customer happy and loyal, is to bring something new and exciting to keep them engaged. And that’s where individuality and innovation come in, because people will get bored easily. Remember how popular HQ Trivia was only a few months back? Now, the novelty of potentially winning £500 at 3pm and 9pm everyday has worn off, so people simply aren’t bothered by it anymore. Consumers are more intrigued by the concept of HQ Trivia, rather than the brand itself and frankly, the game became more of a trend than a sustainable brand.
A recent study revealed that UK CMOs are almost half as likely to see innovation as the primary role of the marketing function as their US counterparts – only 25% of UK marketers identify “leading disruptive innovation” as a core functional priority. Surprising, since you only need to Google “innovation” to see all the articles that express the importance of innovation in business. So, why are marketers so resistant to prioritise it?
Understanding exactly what consumers want when it comes to new innovations can be tough, especially when there are so many other brands competing for the same crowds, and it can seem difficult to get noticed by anyone. In recent years, brands have attempted to create new marketing techniques, particularly on social media, to try and break through the noise. But some of these actually have a very minimal effect on the relationship between the brand and consumer.
Awareness day campaigns are obvious examples of this. “National Avocado Day”, “International Sloth Day” or “Bring a Potato to Work Day” are just a few of the many examples of this kind of activity that are constantly popping up and trending on social media. And brands are quick to seize the opportunity to create extravagant campaigns, even if the topic has no correlation with their brand. But because it’s trending and popular, they want to be in on it. Whilst some brands are capable of pulling something off – like Aperol giving out free Aperol spritz on National Prosecco Day (yes please!) – for others, the buzz and engagement only really lasts for the day, so is it really worth it?
Similarly, brands who jump on the clickbait-, relatable-type Facebook posts, like the “Tag your friend so that they have to look at this pickle” or “Share if you think XYZ” posts, among others, will only ever get lots of likes, shares and comments on that post and that tends to be where the engagement with the user stops. Consumers are only liking, sharing and commenting because they can relate to the content, not because they want to engage with the brand. Converting leads is said to be a top priority for 70% of marketers, but jumping on social media trends won’t always deliver the best ROI.
Churning out new products or coming up with big, extravagant marketing campaigns is what most people expect when they think of innovation, and what brands think will gain them more customers. But innovation doesn’t have to be as big as that. In fact, small, more focused approaches to innovation can be more beneficial to the brand. Micro influencers, for example, are more focused than a huge, celebrity influencer because they have followers who are genuinely interested in the content that they post.
Likewise, engaging with consumers in a way that’s meaningful will be much more valuable for your brand in the long-term. Challenger bank, Monzo, has a community forum where its users can chat to each other about Monzo products and interact with a team of Monzo employees to discuss new ideas. It allows Monzo to properly listen to what their customers are thinking, and the customers really feel like they are part of the Monzo brand.
Jumping on the bandwagon of novelty marketing trends is easily done, especially when you see every other brand taking part. But it’s important to stay in-line with business values, making sure the customer is front of mind and asking yourself “will this really benefit my business and gain me loyal customers?”
Every brand has something unique and interesting which makes them who they are – otherwise they wouldn’t be a brand. Finding what makes a brand unique and exploiting that, instead of jumping onto current, popular trends, will be much more valuable in the long run – just because everyone might be talking about one thing one day, doesn’t mean they’ll be talking about it the next.
It’s not polite to speak ill of the dead but when it comes to cold calling, it’s a practice we’re not sad to see become extinct. In fact, 97% of cold calls are ineffective and 70% of exec-level buyers state that sales people on calls are unprepared to answer the questions they ask.
We’re in the age of story-selling – not a new concept, but one that becomes more important as we become more reliant on social media and search. The savvier we are online, the more equipped we are at researching and making that purchasing decision. The disruptive ‘out of the blue’ sales call doesn’t work any longer. We don’t like to feel we’re being ‘sold to’, and we don’t like to feel like we’re uninformed, or even speak to someone who’s uninformed. We know how to get the information we want – isn’t that right, Google?
Story-selling is a subtler way of making that sale. It’s about providing value and engaging a prospect over time – by answering questions and providing interesting content, in a logical sequence – until the person is ready to make a purchase.
Unlike cold calling which needed marketing and PR’s help to boost the top of the sales funnel (in the awareness and understanding of a brand), story-selling needs marketing and PR to help influence the buyer throughout the full sales cycle. For example, a sales person could be about to close, but then the customer sees a bad Google Review and decides against it. Or a customer could be hesitant and needs gentle nudges through thought leadership content to be further convinced and move further down the sales funnel.
Good marketing and sales alignment goes all the way down the funnel from top to bottom. Many marketers have the top end in check – generating awareness for their organisation and passing the sales team Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs).
But, how can marketers ensure they’re still influencing the customer until the sale is made?
How can marketing and PR influence the full sales funnel
1. Stay on top of the company’s digital reputation
At any point in the sales funnel, and often nearing the point of making a decision, customers will Google you. I mean even when you’re being told a story in your personal life – like watching Making a Murderer on Netflix – we still feel the need to check the facts by Googling during the TV show.
Marketers should keep track of what appears on page one (especially) and pages two and three of Google. Is there anything that could hinder a sale, such as a bad review or a damning article? If so, marketers should have a strategy in place that looks to displace negative content.
The long-term solution to digital reputation challenges will include both places where you can control your content (Twitter, LinkedIn, SlideShare, etc.) and sites classified as News/Expert Authority. The latter is much harder to influence but this is where PR excels due to its inherent understanding of storytelling, engaging experts and developing messaging that resonates with various audiences.
2. Feed insights to the sales team
How much internal dialogue happens between the sales team and marketing? This should be regular and marketing can take the lead by feeding the sales team with thoughtful content and insights. And in fact, having the sales team pushing out content means that marketers unleash a social army that has considerably more reach than it could ever hope to achieve just through its own social channels.
A great example of this working well is with one of our clients Cornerstone. Every week, Firefly compiles a newsletter with a selection of industry stories, blogs and insight on the competition. We continually refine the way we select content by analysing popular and effective content through trackable links. This gives the right context to the story our client is selling.
3. Interact with even more tailored thought leadership content
We all know that pushy sales tactics don’t get anyone very far – it’s about being consultative and this is where PR and sales need to be more aligned. Do marketers know which questions come up time and time again? Do they know which content prompts a response?
As much as marketers should feed sales with insights, sales must do the same. Marketers need this understanding to develop tailored ‘persuasion’ content, especially for a high value lead. It’s worth the high effort. Everyone wants a Disney ending!
4. Get in it, to win it
The mature story-sellers on your team will understand the importance of building and maintaining their social profile to give the ‘story’ personality. But some may not, and the marketers who are at the forefront of digital technology need to educate and support the sales team when it comes to the potential of social media. For the sales team, it’s about making it personal and relevant, and not relying on a company’s social presence to feed the sales funnel.
With this army of story-sellers, it’s also important to all align. This means looping in sales at the start of message development because they need to be authentic when speaking to prospects. ‘Plugging’ a message that’s been given to them by marketing may not be as effective as a message that they bought into early in the process.
5. Build, listen, build more, listen, build even more
Story-selling is just as much about listening. That’s really listening to what a prospect is saying, but also how they’re behaving and engaging with you. Sales and marketing need to work together to build conversations and help each other keep track of each stage. A customer won’t want to start explaining everything over and over again. Continuity in story-selling is so important.
Likewise, if you begin to feel like you are shoe-horning in your ‘solution’ to their issue, then it’s time you re-evaluate your proposition. You can’t build on a conversation if it’s off to a wonky start.
We live in a time where we are resourceful and make decisions on our own terms. The instructive nature of a cold call is long dead and this new sales environment is perfect for marketing and PR to thrive. However, it will only flourish if marketing and sales teams change working practices in order to be more closely aligned.
Trust plays a big role in modern commerce and communications. It can be a fickle commodity, rising and falling based on your reputation.
Amazon for example, is a brand that we would typically trust. You can buy pretty much anything you want and know that delivery will be quick, especially if you’re a Prime member. It’s a solid brand built on efficiency and doing things right (most of the time). But…would you trust Amazon to deliver your pharmaceuticals? According to CNBC, Amazon is hiring to break into the multi-billion-dollar pharmacy market.
Amazon’s biggest challenge is unlikely to be logistics, but getting customers to trust the brand to deliver drugs to their doorstep. In the UK if you need some paracetamol or cold/flu medicine or need to pick up a prescription, you trust Boots or your local pharmacy, maybe even the local Tesco. Will consumers truly trust Amazon?
In the last year, Firefly worked with a rail infrastructure specialist that had been singled out by Network Rail regarding safety, despite most other operators having worse records. Firefly helped the brand to rebuild trust and take a lead on improving safety, by developing a whitepaper on the future of the rail maintenance industry, launched alongside Network Rail. This helped to prompt the creation of a cross-industry alliance to put in action the issues raised by the whitepaper.
PR is a vital tool in helping to build trust and credibility for brands. Here are my top tips on how it can be done.
Master the art of listening and understanding
OK – admittedly, this is advice that has origins in the dawn of civilisation. But it is often something that does get forgotten. You can get so wrapped up in the excitement of launching into a new market, or a start-up that’s launching itself onto the world stage, meaning listening and understanding can sometimes take a backseat.
Taking time to continually listen to your customers and understand their needs and questions is important. But you must also make sure that anything you say is going to be actioned. If your communications team and operations team are well-linked, then you know that you can do something about feedback and questions you receive.
For example, it’s intensely annoying to have a social media account respond quickly to your enquiry, but then not actually DO anything about it. It’s a bit like Virgin Trains tweeting at that guy who ran out of loo roll ‘lol yeah sh*t happens’ rather than actually dispatching someone to help him in his hour of need. Tying up operations and communications can help you to listen to your customers and then action requests or complaints, to make sure you’re doing what you said you would do.
Focus on your expertise and accomplishments
Whilst it’s tempting to talk about your products and services, the activity that will build trust and credibility for your brand is your knowledge of an industry and the issues it faces. Expertise and knowing “your stuff” is far more effective in building trust and credibility than how fast your product can measure a piece of string.
We’ve all heard a great deal about the Internet of Things, which was recently reported to be worth an estimated $531 billion to the UK economy by 2030. While it is no doubt still extremely relevant for corporations and brands, trendwatching has picked up on a new tech trend that has been making the rounds – The Internet of Caring Things.
For those who aren’t too familiar with this concept, The Internet of Caring Things is a network of connected objects brought to life by a clear mission: to actively care for consumers – their physical and mental well-being, homes, loved ones, and more.
To name a few, some of the early innovations to come out of this new phenomenon include the Nest Smart Thermostat, NIKE Fuelband and Fitbit.
This concept builds on the idea that there is a set of fundamental, unchanging needs and wants for every human being, and consumers will be drawn to products, services and experiences that unlock new ways to serve these imperatives:
As customers steadily become the centre-point of all technological innovation decisions for companies, finding out exactly what drives customer behaviour has been key to corporate success and profitability, and The Internet of Caring Things unleashes a stream of new innovations and products that directly respond to these motivations. Expect this to be a PR and social media hot topic in the next 12 months.
As the network of caring objects continues to increase, consumers will naturally grow to expect brands to consistently deliver products and services that ‘care’ for them and address their needs. Whether in store, online, during delivery, or even as a form of customer service, customers will place this expectation of caring on brands. This in turn will place pressure on brands to maintain a high standard of ‘customer-centric’ service, even spilling over into social media behaviour where brands are expected to always be on top of customer queries and complaints.
With increased connectedness through the Internet of Caring Things, more and more data has been generated on daily movements, mood, sleep patterns, buyer behaviour and many more. Understanding and analysing this data is key to getting the insight needed to create products and services that enhance the lives of consumers. Most businesses are already swimming in data, so the Internet of Caring Things will add new elements of complexity to a problem that most organisations haven’t yet cracked.
A similar concern that rose out of the Internet of Things, the issue of privacy and security becomes a significant issue as more objects get connected and more data gets shared. This is particularly concerning for personal data such as that sourced from wearable technology. Imagine the public relations disaster if this kind of data was leaked or hacked.
Another example is the baby monitor hack last year, which understandably caused a lot of unease for people involved. While brands can’t always prevent such security breaches from happening with their products, they need to be aware of the security risks as the network becomes increasingly connected and have a crisis communications plan on standby in case anything happens.
In summary, brands can no longer rely on pure novelty value of technological innovations to attract customers. Technology sold needs to be smart, calculated, and directly targeted at addressing customers’ motivation drivers to maximise value. Is the next tweeting fridge going to grab the interest of consumers? Quite possibly, and it might even generate quite a bit of PR buzz. But if technology is to have long term appeal, it needs to solve a problem – and if it cares for us in some way, that’s a good start.
Ask a mummy blogger why she started blogging and she will generally say the same as me: “I had to get all this stuff out of my head”.
For some mums that might be that they have a child who is autistic and they want to raise awareness, vent about form filling, systems designed to help that actually hinder, or they are just seeking support from fellow parents. Or they might be mums suffering from post natal depression who need to get off their chests how they are feeling and find mutual support from other sufferers, past and present.
For me, it was different. I found that working from home means that I don’t get a chance to rant about the Kardashians or Honey Boo Boo or Jamie Oliver’s latest 15 minute recipe book over a cup of tea with colleagues. For my husband’s sanity I have to get it “out there” somewhere so my blog www.mummybarrow.com is my little part of the world wide web to put my opinion across and, sometimes, spark a debate with others.
I have been blogging for over a year now and I have seen my subscriber list and Twitter followers increase on a daily basis. It seems people like hearing my opinions on world events, newspaper articles or chocolate. A fact that both surprises me and at the same time makes me just a little bit proud. Who would have thought that a tubby middle aged housewife from Hampshire might be saying something that other people want to hear?
And now it seems that various brands want to hear my opinion and to blog about their products.
Mummy bloggers are great for brands. You send us a product, we use it and we talk about it on our blogs. Blogs that are part of larger communities: Love All Blogs, Britmums, Netmums, Tots100 to name but four. Communities who, in turn, will promote those blog posts to their subscribers and followers. Who will RT our tweets on Twitter when we talk about your products. Who will be promoting YOUR product simply because they trust the blogger.
Beware though. Mummy bloggers are not stupid. We now know the value of our blogs and how powerful our voices can be. We are unlikely to want to promote a product that has a retail price of £5 JUST because it has been sent to us. A brand was horrified recently when I turned down the opportunity to review a tube of teething gel that retails at £1.99. “I have read your blog and see you have children”. Yes, I do. They are 18, 17 and 14. So teething gel is not something I can get passionate about.
Nor do we necessarily want to publish a pre written press release just because it has been sent to us. Many brands and PR companies think we should be flattered to have been chosen to cut and paste a document that includes a back link to a site we have no interest in.
We are not free advertising. We work hard on our blogs, we pay to join some of these communities, we photograph products and write up these reviews. We promote them on our Facebook pages and on Twitter. Do brands really think we are going to do that for product we don’t have an affinity with?
Get it right though and brands can have us eating out of their hands, doing much of their PR for them. I am incredibly loyal to the brands that I have reviewed on my blog. They approached me in the right way, they made a killer pitch and they see me as a brand ambassador, not just as an advertising space on the world wide web. I have continually talked about them whenever I can. If I see other people asking “anybody tried this?” I will jump in and sing the praises of the brand or the product.
To me, mummy bloggers offer the kind of publicity that many brands cannot buy. We should be taken seriously and certainly not viewed as mummy blaggers.
Now if you will excuse me I have a whole box of chocolates to get through for my next post.
You can find Mummy Barrow at www.mummybarrow.com or @mummybarrow
The consumer PR content calendar is full of those “natural” opportunities, that the seasoned PR professional loves and hates in equal measure. Valentines Day, Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Back to School, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Halloween, ‘Movember’, Christmas… the list goes on and on.
This year, adding to that mix are two extra summertime “PR opportunities” (as we and our clients love to call them). Both neatly plug the “occasion gap” that tends to take place in the early-mid summer. The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee (5th June) and The Olympics: London 2012 (27th July-12th August) – both give brands the theoretical chance to emotionally engage with their audience over a shared national occasion.
For London 2012, the chance is indeed theoretical in the most part, though… The Olympics, with all of the associated jurisdiction, means potential engagement riches for worldwide partners that include global power-brands such as Coca-Cola, McDonalds and P&G, and London 2012 partners including BMW, BT and EDF – but not for chancer brands trying to tactically “jump on the bandwagon”.
So it’s no wonder that it’s the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee instead, where we’ve already seen brands exercising their creativity to engage with their audience. It’s been fascinating from a brand perspective, to watch how brand managers and their marketing and PR teams, have embraced this seasonal opportunity for patriotism – often sprinkled with some distinctively British humour.
So, what makes Britain, British? What makes Great Britain, Great?
The marmite sandwich of course! Or sorry, should that be the Ma’amite sandwich? And of course, it could only be on Queensmill. A very patriotic looking and sounding sandwich indeed.
And what about the traditional British cup of tea and a Kitkat at 3pm? Or as it will be for a limited time only, a Britkat. Or if you’d prefer a bit of variety in your chocolate, how about a box of Jubilations, perfect for sharing around at your jubilee party?
Quintessentially British too of course (much as some of us may like it not to be) is the garden gnome. Which is why B&Q was one the first brands to take the opportunity to create a patriotic limited edition. Introducing Diamond Jubilee Gnomes – B&Q’s opportunity to cash in on the “royal”ties. Riches that will be seen in terms of PR value more than sales value, “one” suspects.
All of these limited editions are quintessentially British, all with a bit of humour (some of which makes us cringe even as we laugh). Some could say that this sums up the Royals themselves too.
Happy Jubilee Bank Holiday Weekend from all of us at Firefly!
The unthinkable happens. Brands arrive and rise at a breathtaking pace. Brands disappear alarmingly quickly, as well. Who remembers Netscape and Alta Vista, to name just two?
Today I read on the Inside Facebook blog that Facebook growth in North America has slowed for the second month in a row, although overall, Facebook is expanding (especially in Brazil, India and Mexico). Is this the beginning of the end?
Still strewn across my desk is “The F-Factor”, a great report by trendwatching.com on friends, fans and followers and why the Facebook phenomenon is important to consumers, influencing their purchasing decisions in ever-more sophisticated ways.
Should PRs panic? Well, with 700 million Facebook users worldwide, losing a few million users in North America won’t make a dent. A 45% site expansion over the last year is amazing but is Facebook heading for saturation?
Facebook is still an unstoppable beast and any company needs to consider Facebook and social media generally, as a part of its communications strategy. In terms of proliferation, ease and entertainment, nothing else comes close to Facebook…yet. But I do think people will get bored and look for something new, and there will be a contender to Facebook, as indeed Facebook has become the contender for Google, which seemed unthinkable in 2005.
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